PULLMAN – In Paul Wulff’s mind, there’s no question about the Washington State University quarterback situation.
It’s just that his answer hasn’t been as clear as most Cougars fans would like.
But asked after WSU’s spring game Saturday if there’s no question sophomore Jeff Tuel heads into fall as the No. 1 quarterback, Wulff gave as definitive an answer as he has all spring.
“Yeah, he’s running with the ones, there’s no question,” Wulff said. “And he’s doing well, there’s no question. We want to bring both those guys along. We’re going to need them both, they’re both going to need to play for us, there’s no question.”
Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael spent the spring battling for the highest-profile position on any college football team, starting quarterback.
Saturday before an estimated crowd of 1,000 at Martin Stadium, Tuel ran the No. 1 offense for three quarters. Lobbestael, a junior, was in charge of the second group before taking over the starters for the final 12-minute, running-clock period. The Crimson (starters) outscored the Gray 21-0.
Facing the second-string defense, the 6-foot-3 Tuel, who started five games last fall, led two scoring drives – one of them capped by his 16-yard screen pass to Logwone Mitz – and completed 11 of 16 passes for 129 yards.
Lobbestael, facing the top defense all but the fourth quarter, was 4 of 11 for 27 yards and one interception – an acrobatic diving, tip-to-himself pick by cornerback Aire Justin on the game’s fifth play that ended with Justin unable to continue because of a concussion.
Against the second-string defense, Lobbestael, who has started six games in two years, led the offense on a four-play, 60-yard scoring drive, 51 one of them covered by a Chantz Staden run.
For the spring’s three scrimmages, Tuel completed 25 of 41 (61 percent) for 297 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Lobbestael was 17 of 31 (55 percent) for 165 yards, two scores and three interceptions.
Asked afterward if he was the Cougars’ guy under center, Tuel answered with the skill of a seasoned veteran.
“Every quarterback should feel like they’re the guy,” he said. “If I’m in there, then I feel like it’s my team and my offense to run.”
The Cougars’ top offense ran well against the defense’s reserves, with Staden averaging 8.6 yards a carry and Mitz 5.9. The starting offensive line – missing tackle Wade Jacobson, out with a leg injury – blocked well, with two standing out – though one wasn’t from a lineman.
The second was right guard B.J. Guerra’s kick-out of linebacker Omari Guidry that freed Staden for a 9-yard, fourth-quarter scoring run, his second score.
“It feels good,” Guerra said of the block in the open field. “Not the recognition part, but knowing you did your job. You helped your teammate out and you helped your team score.”
The first came in the second quarter on a 4-yard Mitz run, but it brought the most oohs when replayed on the scoreboard. That’s because it showed linebacker Andre Barrington knocked flat by Tuel, who was wearing a yellow, non-contact jersey.
“I don’t think Andre saw me coming, really, because I didn’t try to hit him that hard,” Tuel said. “But he probably wasn’t expecting a yellow jersey to hit him. It may have been a little cheap, but it’s instincts, I guess. It’s hard not to.
“I feel bad,” Tuel added, then laughed.
But the defense had its moments, as well, especially newcomer Brandon Rankin.
The 6-5, 271-pound junior tackle from Shallotte, N.C., used his quickness off the ball to register two sacks, a tackle for loss and, on many plays, disrupt the second offensive group.
“Brandon is going to give us a unique pass rush from the defensive tackle position, which we haven’t had here since, I don’t know, probably since (Outland Trophy winner) Rien Long was here (2000-02),” Wulff said.
“And his quickness off the ball, he can disrupt some things in the run game and the pass game.”
Rankin is part of an influx of defensive talent that helped the starting group limit the No. 2 offense to 13 yards of total offense on 26 plays, a performance that illustrates the hope Wulff and his staff have for the group.
“They’re real hyper about this year,” Rankin said. “They’re feeling real good. Like everybody said, don’t worry about the past, just look forward to the future. … That’s where I come in. That’s what we’re going to do.”